Everything I Never Told You

Title: Everything I Never Told You

Author: Celeste Ng

Summary: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfil the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait about love, lies, and race.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This book had been on my radar for a while, but i wasn’t sure if i wanted to read it. It was the female POC author and the Chinese-American family dynamic that peaked my interest, and when i saw the book in The Works for a few quid i couldn’t say no. I’m glad. I enjoyed this book in a lot more ways than i thought i would.

The quote on the cover says this book “calls to mind The Lovely Bones“, but for most of the book i couldn’t help but think of the TV series Twin Peaks. It starts with a missing girl and the discovery of her body being pulled from a body of water. It goes on to explore the lives of the family and how little they really know about each other. And with Twin Peaks in mind, i’ll be frank and say i had my eyes on the Dad for most of the book!

What i loved most about this book was its third person omniscient narration. I think this is generally a very underused narrative voice, with most books being told in third person limited or first person point of view. Third person omniscient is pretty tough to pull off well, but Ng manages it flawlessly. I was hooked from that very first line, and knew i was going to enjoy the hell out of this book. The narration flits between all the characters’ thoughts and feelings while also giving snippets of events to come. But none of it in a clumsy way–it still flows and at no point did it get confusing.

All the characters are wonderfully written. All with sympathetic motives and views, but all flawed in genuine ways. None of them are perfect, and all of them fail to communicate enough that wires are crossed, incorrect assumptions made, and pressure piles high on shoulders not strong enough to bear the weight. It is all three children i felt for most, but especially Hannah. The youngest, the ignored and forgotten, the observant and unwitting confidante. Nath and Lydia, bound together by their history and the way the family has dealt with that, but also pulled apart by time and adolescence.

Marilyn and James–Mum and Dad–are perhaps the two most interesting characters, but certainly for me the least sympathetic. Their life experiences, reasoning, and decisions are understandable and i feel for them… to a certain extent. When they become so blinded by their own emotions and selfishness, though, i have to draw the line. Marilyn i have more sympathy for, as a woman in the 60s and 70s with dreams and ambitions, and people at every turn only holding her back. Her only real mistake was blindly projecting that onto her daughter. James, though. As much i can understand his history; how isolating being the only Chinese student would be and how desperately he would have wanted to fit in. I couldn’t forgive how he all but hated Nath for being too similar and idolised Lydia for seeming to be so popular and “normal”. I wouldn’t forgive him holding his wife back in her dreams because of his own inadequacy issues. And i certainly shouldn’t forgive an affair with a teaching assistant that started on the day of his own daughter’s funeral. James is just far, far too selfish to be likeable.

I found the story simple, but excellently constructed, and perfectly emotive. It easily kept me reading, not only to know what happened, but also to see how these characters developed and dealt with their trauma. I wanted a happy ending for them (well, most of them). I wanted Hannah to be loved and appreciated and seen, i wanted Nath to go to college and live his own life, i want Jack’s heart to not be broken. I was happy to see just enough of the future in the last couple of pages that i could close the book happy and satisfied.

This is not the usual kind of book i read–it is heavily character-driven, with personal drama and development at its core. It’s contemporary fiction, and it’s not my go-to. But i fell pretty much head of arse for this book, and i need Ng’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere pretty much ASAP. I’d also love to read more books in a well-written third person omniscient voice… the only others i can think of are The Book Thief and The Hobbit. Any recommendations?

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Three

Title: Three

Author: Annemarie Monahan

Summary: One yellow April morning, a 17-year-old girl asks herself, “Do I dare to eat a peach?” What she decides will send her life in one of three directions.

That morning is long past. Now she is 41.

On one life path, she is Kitty. She’s been happily married for 23 years. Happily enough. Until Faye, her professor, kisses her.

On another path, she is Katherine, a physician. After the death of an old love, she contacts the one lover who still haunts her: a woman who renounced her for God.

On a third, she calls herself Antonia. She’s barely survived the implosion of a lesbian utopian commune, one built on an abandoned oil rig.

Who are we? Who haven’t we been? Have we dared? Three of one woman’s possible lives are about to collide.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I can’t remember when, where, or how i came across this book, but i’m so glad i did, because i loved it. I was immediately sucked in, instantly fascinated by these three women in their opening chapters and ready to read more.

The chapters alternate between the three women and their lives, sharing their pasts and presents. As different as they all are, there are traits they all share. For example, they are all very observant: Katherine as a doctor, noting symptoms and concerns to easily diagnose the ailment and the patient’s motivations; Kitty as an expert shopper, getting the best bargains and stocking piling while she can; and Antonia as a clairvoyant on a psychic telephone hotline, using her ability to read people so well even over the phone to rack up the longest call times and the biggest pay cheques. I loved all three of them, in their own ways. I was never disappointed when one character’s chapter ended, only happy to dive right into the next.

Although all, originally, the same woman, that peach took them each on different journeys. And despite the fact it is relationships and love that each of them are struggling with in their stories, they are all exploring different aspects of that. Antonia wants to help save the woman she loves from herself as well as a group of well-meaning but self-destructive earth child hippies, but at the expense of herself. Katherine is contemplating lost love, things left unsaid, and the different experiences people have of the same events. Kitty is finally allowing herself to wake up and explore aspects of her own desire she has kept so well-hidden. There is something here everyone should be able to relate to.

The writing is wonderful. It is clever and witty and poetic and meaningful–and i’m still not sure how it manages to be all those things at once, but it does. And it reads so effortlessly that it was simply a joy to pick up. This was a book i didn’t want to put down, but it was also a book i was enjoying enough to want to make it last. I think i managed quite well, finishing at a sedate pace of 10 days. But i still want to be reading it now.

The only place the book faltered was in the final few short chapters, when each woman’s story was, in a manner of speaking, ‘wrapped up’. At this point the writing became overly poetic and lost some of its meaning; it veered from the story and the point a little in an attempt to be sincere and significant, but succeeded only in being vague and inconsequential.

As far as i’m aware this is the only book by Monahan, but it want more of her words. They were, on the whole, perfection.

Instruction Manual for Swallowing

Title: Instruction Manual for Swallowing

Author: Adam Marek

Summary: Robotic insects, in-growing cutlery, flesh-serving waiters in a zombie cafe… Welcome to the surreal, misshapen universe of Adam Marek’s first collection; a bestiary from the techno-crazed future and mythical past; a users’ guide to the seemingly obvious (and the world of illogic implicit within it). Whether fantastical or everyday in setting, Marek’s stories lead us down to the engine room just beneath modern consciousness, a place of both atavism and familiarity, where the body is fluid, the spirit mechanised, and beasts often tell us more about our humanity than anything we can teach ourselves.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: I don’t even remember how, where, or why i came across this book, but it obviously intrigued me enough to add it to my wish list, because i got it for my birthday a couple of years ago. It was recently moved swiftly up the ‘to read’ list when it was mentioned at a short story workshop i attended. One of the exercises was to take two things that you would generally not mix and write a story about them (which his how i ended up writing about a first kiss at an exorcism!). This is, seemingly, what Marek does with these stories.

None of these stories are about what you expect. My favourite was Cuckoo, i think, because its elusiveness works so well; it has a well-rounded story that doesn’t give all of its pieces up at once. Robot Wasps and Meaty’s Boys are two that also sit strong in my mind. Meaty’s Boys is one of the longest stories in the book, but seemed to fly by in no time at all. It is also the story with the most well-built world. Though the world we glimpse in Robot Wars was fascinating and left me wanting to know more about it.

These weird little glimpses into strange quirky worlds are what i love about the best short stories. They don’t all make sense, they don’t all have an underlying message or meaning, and they don’t follow any kind of pattern. They’re mostly just light-hearted gems to while away a few minutes while you’re waiting for the bus. And if a few of them have any kind of depth to them, well, that’s a bonus for those who want to search for it.

I mostly dived into this book looking for inspiration for my own short story writing, and while i did find some of that, i also found doubt and uncertainty. What i found these stories mostly lacking was feeling. I found it easy, once i’d finished a story, to let go of it–to move on. I think that’s perhaps not the feeling i want my own stories to leave readers with, but i write things that are also a little off the wall and i’m starting to wonder… but that’s a whole other post.

The only other problem i had with some of these stories were a few of the male characters, who were off with other women, trying to recapture some bullshit emotions or shit, while leaving their long term partners at home literally holding the baby. I just can’t with these characters, and it makes me side-eye Marek a little that this is obviously so easy a character he can fall into writing.

But yes, silly, weird, and inspired short stories that made me laugh, intrigued, and inspired. Definitely want to read more.

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The Vegetarian

Title: The Vegetarian

Author: Han Kang

Summary: Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker, she is a dutiful wife. Their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, commits a shocking act of subversion: she refuses to eat meat. Thus begins a disturbing and thrilling psychological drama about taboo, desire, rebellion and fantasy.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: It was the title that drew me to this book. I’ve been vegetarian for about 15 years, vegan for the last 2, so a book called The Vegetarian that was getting people talking and was proving popular remained on my radar long enough to peak my interest.

The book is about a woman–Yeong-hye–but told in three acts from the point of view of three other people. The first part is from the point of view of her husband, and details the point at which she stopped eating meat and the immediate aftermath of this. I found this part to be the most interesting, honestly. Yeong-hye’s husband is a selfish, abusive piece of shit, but he is also the closest person to her. He witnesses her daily routines, her unique quirks, and the most subtle changes in her as they happen. He is also the most insecure of the three narrators, and is therefore, i think, the most observant of the people around him–Yeong-hye, her family, and his own colleagues.

The second part of the story is told from the point of view of Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law. He is just as selfish and abusive as her husband, but i think in a much, much more self-centred way. He sees all his actions as necessary in order to create his work, which is the only thing driving him. He doesn’t have the insecurities Yeong-hye’s husband has, and although is aware of other people’s feeling and expectations, doesn’t truly care about them. This leaves him more free to do and take as he pleases, and makes him much more dangerous.

The third part of the book is told from In-hye’s point of view. She is Yeong-hye’s sister, and the wife of the brother-in-law. This part was my second favourite. In-hye is a more sympathetic character. Growing up with Yeong-hye she has similar experiences in life and cares very deeply for her sister. She’s the only one left supporting Yeong-hye, and is starting to really understand what Yeong-hye has been going through. It’s the concluding part of the story, where threads come together and questions are answered (or left intentionally unanswered). While it wasn’t as plot-driven as the other parts of the book, it was the most analytical, and interesting in a unique way.

There is a lot left open to interpretation in this book. Character’s motivations–Why did Yeong-hye stop eating meat, stop eating, want to become one with nature? Why was her brother-in-law so inspired by and obsessed with the Mongolian mark? Why did In-hye carry so much guilt and understanding for what her sister was experiencing? Actual facts–What exactly did Yeong-hye dream? Was Yeong-hye as mentally unwell as people assumed? Did In-hye hold as much of the thread on her own sanity as she thinks she did? And general meanings–Were Yeong-hye’s actions merely a way for her to take control of her own life and make her own choices? Was the brother-in-law a sexual deviant or a misunderstood artist? Did In-hye ultimately understand her sister’s plight, or was she simply projecting her own?

This book is fascinating in a lot of ways, but almost unreachable or inexplicably distant in others. I feel that although this book didn’t make a huge impact on me initially, it’s definitely left me with many questions and may be a story that stays with me for a while, making me think and consider things in new ways. I am definitely interested in reading more of Kang’s work.

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Horrorstör

Book Review: Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix 4/5 StarsTitle: Horrorstör

Author: Grady Hendrix, Michael Rogalski (Illustrator)

Summary: Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.

To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

A traditional haunted house story in a thoroughly contemporary setting, Horrorstör comes packaged in the form of a glossy mail order catalog, complete with product illustrations, a home delivery order form, and a map of Orsk’s labyrinthine showroom.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This book caught my eye immediately when i first came across it. A novel idea, and the cover and design were brilliantly done. I knew I wanted to read it. But more than that, I wanted to buy a copy for my sister–she’s in Ikea as often as her credit card allows her to be. Buying a copy for her meant i could borrow it, so it was a win-win.

Although i’m a big fan of the horror genre, i really didn’t expect this book to be scary or creepy at all. I expected humour and a goofy, slapstick kind of horror. I was kind of right, but also so, so wrong.

Hendrix wastes no time in getting the story going, with the whole thing taking place over just 24 hours. The first third of the book is pretty light reading, with some odd things going on and the main characters seeming fairly two dimensional. It was good and kept my interest, but wasn’t outstanding.

The last two thirds of the book were brilliant. At a particular point the horror aspect stopped being just weird and quirky stuff in a furniture superstore and actually began getting scary. Genuinely scary. So much so that one night i had to stop reading early and scroll through instagram and pinterest for a while before i went to sleep. I loved it.

Although the creep factor got pretty high, the humour didn’t suffer for it. My favourite has to be the furniture names, and a chair called a arsle had me grinning for a while. The book walks a fine line between genuine horror and poking fun at horror clichés, and it walks it perfectly. It allows the fun poking to compliment the contemporary setting.

If you’re paying enough attention there’s a lot of commentary on consumerism, retail work, and the soul-sucking nature of it all. But never so much that it bogs down the book, nor make too much light of it.

The characters follow form. They are an interesting two-dimensional, never quite reaching three, but i think that fits with the overall vibe of the book. Our main character Amy was annoyingly likable, and i was rooting for her as soon as shit starts to get real. She becomes a worthy hero of the story… and the wardrobe scene, while predictable, was an excellent example of the horror/humour line and is definitely my favourite part of the entire book.

If you couldn’t tell already, i loved it. I can already see this being a strong contender for the book i most urge people to read this year. If i had the money i’d buy a load of copies and hide them amongst Ikea’s avalanche of catalogues!

The Girl on the Train

tgottTitle: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Summary: EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens.
She’s even started to feel like she knows them. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.
Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.
Now they’ll see; she’s so much more than just the girl on the train…

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: This has been on my to read pile for a while, so long, in fact, that my SO got to it first. With the recent release of the film, i decided it was time (though i didn’t, and still don’t, have any plans to see the film–i’ve heard it’s terrible).

It’s a gripping book that definitely kept me reading. The chapters were quite short and often had a teasing or slightly revelatory end to them which made starting the next so easy. The plot–the mystery–is established well with plenty of scope and lots of avenues to consider. Although the draw for this book might be the plot, i felt it was more the string tying the characters together, because it was the characters who stand out.

As seems to be the theme with popular thrillers these days, none of the characters are exactly likeable. Mostly, though, i’m sick of readers moaning about not liking characters. To me, readers who just outright dislike all these characters aren’t looking deep enough. Yes, they are all extremely flawed, but they all have their own motivations, vices and shortcomings. They’re all complex individuals, and we get to see them trying to live and be better people, but we also see them failing at their worst moments. That’s more real and interesting to me than likeable but only two dimensional characters.

Rachel, our main character, i mostly didn’t like because she comes across as very weak, needy and desperate. She’s also an alcoholic who i preferred much more when she was sober and talking honestly about her issues. I’m glad the road wasn’t easy for her in this regard, though, because that would have been unbelievable. As much as i wanted her to get sober, i wouldn’t have bought it if she hadn’t fallen off the waggon and fucked up a few times.

Megan, our missing girl, i neither liked nor disliked. I felt like she wasn’t getting the chance to be who she wanted to be, and that maybe that person could be someone i’d like. Anna i very much disliked, i think mostly because there was nothing about her i could relate to, but a few of her actions later in the book more than redeem her in my eyes. Cathy was nice, but a bit too nice–i dislike too nice. And the men, well. I found them less fleshed out, less complex, less… just less.

The plot was simple enough, and the narrative devices standard and formulaic. The narrators were unreliable, but only in ways the author wants them to be. Missing, misleading and vague information is just as telling as what is clearly presented and discussed. If you know what to look for, this book holds no surprises. If you’re encouraged to consider X, instead take a closer look at Y. I had my suspicions by chapter four, my bet placed on the ending by halfway through, and every new revelation from there just made me more confident i was right. I half hoped i wasn’t, though, because i like being surprised!

Overall this was an okay book. What it did it did well, but it played it too safe, stuck to tricks and tactics so well-used they are easy to spot if you know to look for them. But it kept me turning pages, kept me hoping there’d be something i’d missed, something i’d not considered. When there wasn’t, i couldn’t give it more than a solidly average three stars.

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Lovers’ Lies

loversliesTitle: Lovers’ Lies

Author: Various

Summary: This book is designed expressly for romantic cynics and cynical romantics. Be careful who catches you reading it – your intentions might be misinterpreted.

Join us as we wallow in the mny facets of relationships. Explore role-play gone wrong, goldfish that eat loneliness, and a very literal leap into the unknown.

Old love, cold love, true love, new love, dead love, we’re through love – making babies and making whoopee, disappointment and contentment, playing at home, playing away or just playing’ missed chances and new romances: everything from first conversation to last breath, strange journeys and stranger destinations.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: First of all, now i’ve just copy-typed that summary, can i just say how awful it is? Just… listing things. Very unimaginative and un-engaging. This is a book of short stories from the Liars’ League, all written around the theme of love. I first came across the Liars’ League when i read their book Weird Lies. I enjoyed it so much i wanted to try more, and bought this one.

Just like with Weird Lies, each story was short enough to enjoy in any snippet of time i could grasp, though a large chunk of them were also read over a longer train journey. I love short stories, and Liars’ League really does have some of the best. They’re self contained, have clear objectives and are easy to get into. This book contained 22 stories over 144 pages, and i enjoyed every single one. Some i loved more than others, of course.

‘Dara’ was about the love of a landlady for her suspicious tenant, as told through the eyes of the cleaner.

‘Under the Influence’ was about a drunken call from a husband while his wife does an online grocery shop. It’s not a happy call, and you feel for both characters… until the end, which is perfection.

‘Mrs Murdoch and Mr Smith’ is about two elderly people who meet for tea and cake, and though i would have taken the story in a more unexpected direction, i think it tells a story of companionship that very rarely gets acknowledged, and i loved that.

‘Monsieur Fromage’ is about a woman desperately seeking the perfect cheese to prove her love. She finds the cheese, but also something else.

‘Games I’ve Played and the People I’ve Played Them With’ is… very moving, actually. It’s about fun, games and finding joy in life with the ones you love, for as long as you can.

‘Speaking in Tongues’ is about love and language and connecting with someone on one level, but perhaps not on another.

‘The Painter and the Physicist’ is about a love between art and science, and how much they can share each other.

I find these short stories fascinating and inspirational. There is an art to the short story, and the Liars’ League have a knack for recognising the best. It makes me want to get writing my own. I will definitely be reading more Liars’ League books in the future.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: Water on the cover.

Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

ablutionsTitle: Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

Author: Patrick deWitt

Summary: A brilliant portrait of addiction and its consequences, featuring a watchful, whiskey-loving barman, sociopathic clientele – daring, funny and surprisingly tender.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4.5/5

Review: Discuss how much you enjoyed the book you recently finished reading. It so quickly immerses you into the story by making you a part of the story. With its second person narrative executed perfectly, the short chapters that manage to get you reading more than you intend to and the simple language used to efficiently yet evocatively describe these people and their surroundings. You sum up your review in its first paragraph and wonder if you should bother continuing.

Yeah, i was hooked on this book within the first few pages. A couple of years ago i read deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers on a recommendation from a friend and loved it. Ablutions has been on my to-read list ever since. Last weekend i found it a library book sale for 0.25p. Needless to say, i snapped it up and started reading it almost immediately. Possibly the best 0.25p i’ve ever spent.

Set in a bar in Los Angeles, the book explores alcoholism, drug addition and self-abuse in general. At no point does it romanticise these things–trust me. In fact it goes out of its way to specifically to show them as debasing, depraving and life-ruining.

I don’t know, i really did sum it up in that first paragraph. About half of the short sections start with “Discuss [something]” and, as the title suggests, the entire book reads like notes on people and incidents in the narrators life, and with the second person it’s as if he is writing notes to himself. Or, as if the reader has written notes to themselves. Second person narration is so hard to do well, but deWitt nails it in this book. The narrator, and every character described in the book, is hateful, selfish and self-destructive; none of them are likable, but the second person narrative had me rooting for the protagonist hard by the end, even as he steal and lies and causes harm.

The nature of the note-taking-like storytelling utilises a very simple writing style, lots of “you do [this]” and “you say [that]” etc, but it is its simplicity and clarity that so easily–so casually–creates this vivid world and characters. I’m not a fan of over-description, so of course i favour this style, but it really adds to this novel and its style overall. The simplistic writing offers as much insight into the narrator as any description of himself he may offer, and i often found myself consciously recognising the minimalistic writing style for that reason.

Again, in fitting with the “notes for a novel” title, a lot of the book reads like a character study of all the people the narrator encounters, and i found that fascinating. Getting to know characters and forming opinions on them is something i love about books, and this one manages it perfectly. I hate and/or pity everyone in the book, but they are also so obviously human and vulnerable and have something that could be likable about them–they’re real.

Humour is also a huge part of this novel. I laughed a lot, and wanted to tweet quotes every time i picked up the book. A lot of the humour is crude and gross, but that personally doesn’t offend me or put me off at all. I love it when amusement comes with a side of disgusted face-pulling; life isn’t all free shots and parties, sometimes it’s blueberries-and-blood shitting yourself.

Patrick deWitt’s writing style has so much of what i love. He is fast becoming one of my very favourite authors, and i eagerly await the release of his next novel in September.

I’m using this book to knock off the free space in my Bookish Bingo!

Gone Girl

Title: Gone Girl

Author: Gillian Flynn

Summary: Who are you?
What have we done to each other?

These are the questions Nick Dunne finds himself asking on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they weren’t made by him. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone.

So what did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: WARNING: This review contains huge, massive, mega spoilers for Gone Girl. The entire thing. So, read on at your own risk. /WARNING

I ummed and ahhed over reading this for quite a while. I had heard both good and bad things and, along with my general habit of avoiding something if it’s too popular, i held off for a long time. When the film trailer was released, i watched it to see if it was a film i would want to watch. It was, and being a book > film kind of person, that decided it for me. I bought the book next time i saw it in a charity shop.

It was easy to read, and i enjoyed it a lot more than i worried i might. That i knew there was a twist helped. The story is told in chapters alternating between present-day husband and historical diary entries wife. For the first half of the book i didn’t really like either of them, but i didn’t hate them either.

The wife, Amy, came across as a little weak, a little bit too naive. Nick, the husband, was a bit oblivious and was obviously hiding something. These obvious omissions were what drew my interest the most. I was driven crazy with casual lines like:

It was my fifth lie to the police. I was just getting started.

All i wanted was to know what the hell had happened and what the unexpected twist would be. Because Nick being the murderer everything indicated he was was clearly not going to be it.

My very early theory had been that Nick and Amy had faked it together, to claim the life insurance money and solve their financial problems. I was half right.

When the twist that Amy had faked her own death was revealed about halfway through the book, the main thing that had kept me reading was brought to an end. She even reveals how she did it pretty swiftly, and enough to satisfy my curiosity. What then became the driving force of the book was: Who is Amy, really? With the diary entries we had been reading revealed as fake, Amy was now almost a new character. I still didn’t like her.

Throughout the second half of the book, i liked both Amy and Nick less. I appreciated Nick’s simmering anger at Amy, but hadn’t forgiven him for his affair and disinterest. The more i learnt about the real Amy the more i disliked her, but i admired her intelligence and ability to hold a grudge and seek revenge. Really, I wanted them both to win and to lose.

In that respect, i thought the ending was great. These two, i disliked them both the perfect amount, so for them to end up stuck with each other seemed like a wonderful comeuppance for the pair of them.

I’ve heard the film has changed the ending, which i’m not so attached to that that idea bothers me. I just hope they haven’t gone with Amy getting caught. As much as i dislike her, i wanted her to get away with it. She doesn’t have to get a happy ending, but her getting caught would be dull, as far as i’m concerned.

I just love more ambiguous open endings–endings the reader can decide the details on, decide where the story ultimately goes. And the idea that Amy and Nick spend the rest of their lives together, playing mind games and one-upping each other all the way, is the best kind of ending.

Rough Music

rmTitle: Rough Music

Author: Patrick Gale

Summary: Julian as a small boy is taken on the perfect Cornish holiday. With the arrival of glamourous American relations emotions run high and events spiral out of control. Though he has been brought up in the forbidding shadow of the prison his father runs, though his parents are neither as normal nor as happy as he supposes, Julian’s world view is the sunny selfish, accepting one of boyhood. It is only when he becomes a man – seemingly at ease with love, with his sexuality, with his ghosts – that the traumatic effects of that distant summer rise up to challenge his defiant assertion that he is happy and always has been.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This was my second Patrick Gale book, and while i had nothing bad to say about the first one i read, Notes From an Exhibition, it just wasn’t my kind of book, either. The same can be said for Rough Music, but for some reason, i loved this one. I couldn’t put this book down. I had to keep reading.

I think the thing i don’t like about Gale’s books is that they are character driven. There is no main plot or storyline, per se, but an exploration of the characters and their lives. I’m sure others would argue that the characters’ lives is the storyline, but i see it more as a series of events. Semantics, but there is a difference. Regardless, Gale is brilliant at what he does. He shaped these vivid and flawed and realistic characters, he made me sympathise and despise all of them in turn. Although i dislike the lack of a plot, characters can make or break a book for me. I don’t have to like them, but they have to be well-written, and these ones are.

Set in two time lines, simultaneously told, the book details the events of the same family on holiday to the same cottage in Cornwall years apart. It is the events that happen at the cottage and among the members of the family that make up the story. What i do like about Gale’s story telling is the hints and information we are given, and slow reveal of things. We know something happened on the first holiday, and we can take educated guesses as to what, but there are more questions to be asked, more things the reader wants to know, that don’t get revealed until the last few chapters. The second present-day holiday includes both new, dramatic events and a reverberation of the events of the previous holiday. An interesting twist in this is that the mother of the family, who was a main party in the events of the first holiday is, at the time of the second holiday, now suffering with early onset Alzheimer’s. How much does she or does she not remember?

I was gripped, basically. I knew the vague plot, and the major points of what had happened on the first holiday, while the drama that would be surrounding the second holiday is revealed very early on. These weren’t the things that made the story gripping. It was the details, the characters and their motivations. The story is told from three alternate points of view: the mother, the father and the son. What i felt was lacking most of the way through was the point of view of the other child–i wanted to know more about her, her thoughts and motivations. But of course this was the point. To include hers would have given too much away, and the revelations saved for the very end of the book were mostly hers.

I’m still shocked at how much i really enjoyed this book. It’s still just not my kind of book, but there is also something in it i love, and envy in writing. Realistic characters, well-told. I need more books that have that and more of an external plot pulling the characters along. I’m undecided if i will read any more books by Gale. I think i like the idea of having him as a ‘safe’ back-up author that i can turn to if i need an easy not-my-usual read, but i also fear, after reading reviews for his other books, that i’ve already read the best two.